Pakistan-born Australia Test opener Usman Khawaja feels the biggest challenge throughout his career has been fitting in the national team by being true to himself and also earning the respect of his teammates through his on-field performances.
Born in Islamabad, Khawaja was the first Pakistan-born cricketer to play Test cricket for Australia when he made his debut in 2011.
“The biggest challenge for me throughout my career playing for Australia has been fitting in. For me it is always about fitting in and feeling like I can be myself in the Australian cricket team and that has taken a little bit of time,” Khawaja told the ICC.
“A little bit of that is earning the respect of my teammates by scoring runs and performing on the field, and the other side is me being myself and comfortable in my own skin.” The 36-year-old is part of the Australian squad for the World Test Championship final against India, starting here on Wednesday.
“To do what I want and for the guys in the team to understand and respect who I am as a person. That always takes a certain time when you are trying to change certain structural things around Australian cricket and for me, that has been my biggest hurdle.
“But at the same time, it is something that I am most proud of achieving because I am the first cricketer to be born in Pakistan or to come from a sub-continent background to represent the Australian cricket team.
“And I am one of few coloured cricketers to ever represent Australia, so it is very proud for me.” The prolific opener, who has amassed 4495 runs from 60 Tests, is an integral part of the Australian Test team but the southpaw had been dropped post the 2019 away Ashes series despite some good scores.
After scoring runs in the Sheffield Shield, Khawaja made a comeback into the Test side for 2021 Ashes, and scored centuries in both innings in the Sydney Test.
“I definitely get to be myself more now. Two things. One, I don’t give a crap because I am older and I am at the backend of my career so I can do what I want. Two, these boys that I am playing with are guys that I grew up playing with. I grew up playing with a lot of them, playing for New South Wales.
“Starcy (Mitchell Starc), (Pat) Cummins, (Josh) Hazlewood, (Steve) Smith and (David) Warner - all of these guys I grew up playing with so it makes it a lot easier to be myself. Even when I came into Australian cricket I was the young fella from a sub-continent background coming into a very white Australian cricket team.
“I found it very tough to fit into the mould. And there was a mould for Australian cricket at that time and that mould is not really there anymore.” Khawaja’s splendid run played a huge role in Australia qualifying for the maiden WTC final.
“Hopefully, slowly, I can be the first of many Usman Khawaja’s - both male and female - who come into the system who aren’t born in Australia and traditionally aren’t white Anglo Saxons,” he said.
“That is the reason I feel most comfortable now. One because I am a little older and comfortable with myself, but two also the guys in the team and around me make me feel more comfortable than I have ever been.”
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